When the Texas Legislature ended its regular session on May 31, it marked the end of a stressful and fast-paced 140 days. During that time, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas joined countless other organizations, as well as dedicated citizens, to advocate for legislation that will benefit North Texas families, especially in our focus areas of education, income and health.
This year, legislators worked to make several big changes to our state policy, some of which will have a very direct, very real impact on everyday people.
Here’s a highlight of some of our key legislative accomplishments in education, income and health, and what they mean for our neighbors throughout North Texas:
It was a big year for education, especially in the area of early childhood education. Multiple bills passed in advance of millions of federal dollars coming to our state that are specifically earmarked for childcare. During this year’s session, advocates successfully pushed for legislation improving the quality of childcare, streamlining the system and requiring the state to create a plan for supporting the childcare workforce.
In the wake of COVID-19, these bills are a timely acknowledgment of the importance of the childcare industry. As we’ve all seen, childcare providers are a critical part of the workforce and an essential support system for parents and caregivers who work.
Another gain in the area of education is within digital connectivity. After COVID-19 brought to light the importance of equitable access to critical technology infrastructure, lawmakers made broadband expansion one of their top priorities. At the beginning of the session, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas encouraged legislators to expand existing infrastructure while also creating a state broadband council and office—something most states already have. The latter could help remove barriers to digital connectivity, including technology and skills, to ensure all Texans can benefit.
Working together, the United Ways of Texas helped unite 180 organizations to sign on to legislation addressing digital connectivity. And good news: The bill passed.
As Stephanie Mace, vice president of Strong Communities at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, explains, this will help children in underserved areas with their education.
“COVID really allowed us to see the depth and the size of the digital divide,” she said. “I think it was really clearly shown in the education space, with kids who didn’t have internet in their homes. Of course, we can provide them with hotspots, but we need a more sustainable method for them to connect to the internet.”
Mace points out that the legislation will also allow more Texans to use digital technology to find work, take advantage of online banking capabilities and access health care. These are huge issues in many rural and underserved areas, where well-paying jobs are scarce, bank branches have closed and health care options are limited.
In areas related to income and financial stability, the legislative session was both good and bad.
For example, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas worked to encourage legislators to protect payday and auto-title loan ordinances that help to safeguard Texans from predatory loans. We testified to lawmakers in support of the ordinances and, through our Advocacy Alerts, we also encouraged our supporters to contact their representatives and voice their support for upholding this important legislation. In this case, all that effort paid off, and the ordinances were protected.
However, the legislature pushed through a bill that will effectively criminalize homelessness by making camping in a public place illegal. This law would be particularly harmful now, as more of our North Texas neighbors are struggling because of COVID-19 and February’s winter storm.
As Ashley Brundage, executive director of housing stability and senior vice president of community impact at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, points out, this law will do more harm than good.
“The criminalization of the poor, through the criminalization of living outside, is ill-advised and does nothing to break the cycle of poverty or prevent homelessness in the future,” she explains. “We need our policy makers to focus on how to ease the way for affordable housing in our communities; housing is the only solution to homelessness that works.”
Gov. Abbott is expected to sign the homelessness bill into law sometime this month.
In the area of health, lawmakers did pass a few bills that should benefit North Texans; however, we had hoped for more progress.
Two of the pieces of legislation affect Medicaid coverage and eligibility. First, a bill passed that will extend the length of time a new mom has Medicaid insurance to six months after giving birth. Originally, post-partum coverage only lasted two months, and United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, along with other health advocates and the Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee, pushed for a full 12 months of coverage.
Although six months is less than we had hoped for, we’re optimistic that this will help reduce maternal mortality and other post-partum complications. According to state Rep. Toni Rose, the author of the bill, one-third of maternal deaths in Texas happen 43 days or more postpartum—and many of them are women who were previously enrolled in Medicaid who recently lost their insurance coverage.
The second health-related improvement affects children’s eligibility for Medicaid. Texas currently has a thorough and effective system for reviewing children’s eligibility for Medicaid during initial applications and in the annual renewal process (which occurs 10 months after enrollment). But the system for mid-year reviews of children’s Medicaid eligibility—which happens at five, six, seven and eight months after approving initial applications—takes shortcuts and makes mistakes. Legislators put forward bills to reduce the number of mid-year eligibility reviews and allow families 30 days to respond. Thankfully, this bill passed at the last minute.
Although these bills didn’t go as far as they could have, they will help improve services and health outcomes for pregnant people and low-income children, two of our most vulnerable populations.
We were excited to see other policies that we’ve supported in previous session pass, including:
- Last session, we worked to simplify the process of renewing Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for Texans ages 60 and older. This session, that bill passed!
- Over the years, we’ve supported a variety of efforts to improve of student health, emotional wellbeing, and academic outcomes. This year, we’re happy to report there were gains in all of these areas.
What Happens Next?
In Texas, the next regular legislative session will begin in January of 2023. At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we’ll be doing a lot of work in the next year and a half, getting ready to advocate for key issues that align with our Aspire United 2030 goals in education, income and health. We expect hot topics for 2023 to include health care coverage expansion and criminal justice reform.
In the meantime, you can continue to be part of the change. Here’s how:
- Continue to advocate for policies that will lift up your North Texas neighbors. Although we’ll be between legislative sessions, you can reach out to your state representatives any time to share your opinion on key topics. And, be sure you’re signed up for our Advocacy Alerts so you’re among the first to know when we’re working on an important issue.
- Give to United Way of Metropolitan Dallas to support our work right here in North Texas. In addition to our advocacy work, we’re continually creating, funding and supporting programs that enhance education, income and health for our neighbors. An investment in United Way helps more students succeed, more North Texans achieve financial stability and more families thrive. Click here to learn about all the ways to give.
This article was published on: Jun 17, 2021